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Deep diving into the Twin Peaks soundtrack at SF Sketchfest

by Chloe Catajan

When Special Agent Dale Cooper first entered the town of Twin Peaks, he marveled at the endless sight of Douglas firs. Cherry pies and the finest cup of coffee were also beloved local staples. But perhaps most defining for the television show's setting was its soundtrack.

Written by series co-creator David Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti, the music of Twin Peaks did more than fill a scene's background. It gave a heartbeat to the multi-dimensional universe, one full of alternate realities and dream sequences, which made Twin Peaks a truly artistic landmark.

Twin Peaks' influence goes beyond the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer. Visual homages and musical tributes for the nineties cult classic are everywhere, including at this year's SF Sketchfest. The Red Room Orchestra continued its tradition of performing the show's music at the annual comedy festival. For a night, San Francisco venue The Chapel turned into The Roadhouse as the ensemble incarnated Twin Peaks' complex nature.

Good versus evil and everything in between

The Red Room Orchestra reimagined some of the show's most iconic motifs, naturally starting with the majestic "Twin Peaks Theme." The ensemble approached this by drawing out the song's mystic feel. A clarinet bright in tone took the lead melody, as shimmery piano frills playfully retraced the original's bassy trudges.

For "Laura's Theme," a sinister ode to the murdered homecoming queen, the ensemble went all out to unleash its inner fury. It alternated between seething bass notes and poignant crescendos, ultimately driven to distortion by multi-instrumentalist Marc Capelle's alarming trumpet shrills.

These embellishments shedded light on the opposing forces of Twin Peaks' atmosphere. The grandiose opening theme, set to scenes of cascading waterfalls and serene backroads on the show, mirrors the town's outward quaintness. Meanwhile, "Laura's Theme" carries the burden of the community's darkest secrets. "Blue Frank" and "The Black Dog Runs At Night" from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me played on these darker undertones as well. Through erratic instrumentals, the ensemble took these deep cuts and dug farther into the grit of Twin Peaks' underbelly.

On "Audrey's Dance," the Red Room Orchestra stayed mostly true to the jazzy bassline that defined Audrey Horne's mischief. The twist: they quoted "Laura's Theme" mid-song. The ensemble lived up to Horne's character well, teasing her desire to get close to Agent Cooper and to bring attention to herself amid the Laura Palmer case.

Anachronistic tendencies

The set also included songs sung by characters on the show. "Just You," a doo-wop ballad, featured guest vocals by actor James Marshall and comedian Margaret Cho. It defined the melodrama behind Marshall's character of James Hurley--a rebel with a soft heart stuck in an inexplicable love triangle between best friend Donna Hayward and Laura Palmer's cousin. It was first sung in season two at the Hayward home, and then in the revival at The Roadhouse.

Dream pop bop "Rockin' Back Inside My Heart" had Red Room Orchestra's Dina Maccabee and San Francisco vocalist Karina Denike at the mic, emulating The Roadhouse chanteuse Julee Cruise. "Questions in a World of Blue," performed live by Chrysta Bell (FBI Agent Tammy Preston in the revival), also paid homage to Cruise's longing croons. The Roadhouse performances often reminisced different eras of music, serving as interludes that let Twin Peaks' timelessly noir aesthetic breathe.

Occasionally, the evening crossed over to other Lynchian universes. Cho returned onstage to sing "Llorando" from Mulholland Drive, while the Red Room Orchestra also broke into "In Heaven" from Eraserhead and "Blue Velvet" from the 1986 film of the same name.

The music of Twin Peaks (and Lynch worlds beyond) sets a high standard for television soundtracks. As evidenced by the Red Room Orchestra's interpretations, the music carries as much nuance as did the show's characters. It takes its time to unravel ideas, reflective of the show's idiosyncratic storytelling. It is a living, breathing protagonist in and of itself.

Scrobble the Twin Peaks soundtrack here:

(Twin Peaks photo credit: ABC Photo Archives / Contributor – Sketchfest Event photos: Chloe Catajan)

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